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India’s Democracy

April 23rd, 2004 · 7 Comments

Atanu Dey writes in a topical post:

I don’t think what we have currently in India to be a true democracy. It is what I would call a cargo cult democracy.

India has a cargo-cult democracy because it appears to be a democracy on the surface. Like a movie set, the facade presents a reasonable facsimilie of the real thing, but behind it, there is little substance. The hundreds of millions go through the motion of expressing their preference. But uninformed preference expressed haphazardly in a system that is corrupt to the core is not a receipe for a system of governance. It is no wonder that India ends up with “leaders” such as Rabri Devi and Laloo Yadav and Sonia Gandhi.

Democracy does not work in India. That is not to say that the fault lies with the idea of democracy. As a system of governance, there are few alternatives, just as markets are the best way to organize economic activities. But markets are prone to failures if its pre-conditions are not met. So also, democracy does not work in India because its necessary conditions are not met.

The challenge is therefore to ensure that we address the many failures that impede the workings of a democratic system. Installing electronic voting machines will do nothing towards that. Nor will the endless exhortation for people to go out and vote change the outcome. Even if every one of us were to vote, it would still be pointless if the choice we have is to elect either Tweedledum or Tweedledee.

It is a long and hard road to the place where democracy has any meaning. The first step along that road is undoubtedly universal primary education. Universal primary education is a prerequisite for universal adult franchise. Without primary education, you cannot have a literate and informed adult. Without an informed electorate, you cannot have a meaningful democracy. Perhaps that is the reason for the neglect of universal primary education — for that would down the road mean that the feudal lords of the ruling families will no longer be able to rule based simply on loyalty and may even have to work for a living.

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